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Thoughts about teens, tweens, parenting and this adventure of living on Earth in the 21st century.

Annie Fox, M.Ed., is an internationally respected parenting expert, award-winning author, and a trusted online adviser for tweens and teens.

Guest blogger: When Kids Outgrow Visitation Schedules

May 13, 2013

by Scott Morgan

Scott Morgan is a board certified Texas family law attorney who regularly blogs on the subject of divorce and family law. Check out his blog on the Morgan Law Firm website.

Teens demand lots of space from parents, divorced or not

Parents want to see their children grow to become independent, freethinking individuals with the social skills needed to foster relationships independent of mom and dad. Rarely, though, are parents heard to rejoice as their teenagers assert their independence and develop relationships outside the home to the exclusion of time spent with mom and dad.

As an attorney whose practice focuses on divorce and family law, I go to court all the time to enforce child custody and visitation agreements and court orders, but sometimes the law does not provide a practical solution. Recently, a client came to me with a problem that the law and the courts could not resolve. The client was a noncustodial parent who had never had problems with his former spouse regarding visitation with the parties’ only child. Now, years after the divorce, my client could not arrange visits with the child.

I read the visitation agreement, and it was clear and specific as to days and times of visitation.
I would have suggested going back to court to enforce visitation, but my client was not having a problem with the former spouse. The obstacle standing in the way of my client’s visitation was the child or, more accurately, the child who had grown into a teenager.

A visitation schedule that specified that the child would visit with the client on alternating weekends, on specified holidays and for a month during the summer had worked well when the child was younger. As the child got older, something occurred that most non-custodial parents eventually discover about visitation schedules: children outgrow them.

Inflexible visitation schedules minimize conflicts and disagreements between the custodial and non-custodial parent following a divorce by eliminating the need for the parties to engage in discussions about the scheduling of visits. The rigid schedule lets each parent know what is expected and eliminates the potential for disputes.

Unfortunately, the strict schedule that worked so well when the young child did whatever mom and dad said to do became a problem as the child got older. Visitation then took a back seat to school athletics, social events or just hanging out with friends.

How can you as a noncustodial parent maneuver through the teen years and still maintain a solid and involved relationship with your child? Here are a few suggestions that have worked for well many of my clients in their post-divorce teen year struggles.

Forget About Enforcement and Punishment

Without proof that your former spouse is influencing your child’s conduct or otherwise preventing you from exercising your visitation rights there is not much that a judge can or will do about your situation. Unless you and your spouse can agree on a flexible schedule of visitation, the burden falls upon you to resolve your problems with your child.

Threats or punishment will not resolve a visitation problem, at least not in a way that is in the long-term best interest of the relationship with your child. Punishment or threats usually lead to hostility and resentment. Do you want to spend the weekend with a hostile, recalcitrant human being whose only desire is to get away from you?

Flexibility Has to Start With Someone

Show your child you can be flexible. Your visitation schedule may be inflexible, but that doesn’t mean that you have to be. When you are scheduled to visit, extend an invitation to your teenager. Give your child the opportunity to accept or decline. Do not be upset if your teen declines the invitation. After all, it was an invitation and not an order. Extend the invitation again the next time you are scheduled to visit. While at some point you may need to take a different approach, first try to let your child decide that they want to spend time with you. Once you give them the option and make it clear that you would like to spend time with them they may surprise you and agree to go.

Do Not Give Up

If an athletic or other public event in which your child is participating interferes with a scheduled visitation date, arrange to go see your teenager in the event. The message you will be sending is that you want to be involved in your teenager’s life and that you are willing to take the time to make that happen. Make it clear to them that because it is important to them, it is important to you.

Keep In Touch

We live in an age of cell phones, text messaging, emails and countless other ways to stay in touch with each other on a daily basis. Just because your teenager’s schedule does not allow time for you to visit, a text message lets your child see that you are making an effort to stay in touch and stay connected.

Remember, They Really Do Outgrow It

Being flexible, extending invitations and not orders, and staying in touch will help you to maintain a relationship with your child until the day comes that your child accepts your invitation to visit or responds to a text message. They all grow out of it eventually. The trick is not to react during the teen years in a way that harms your future relationship with your son or daughter.

Filed under: Parenting,Tips — Tags: , , , , — Annie @ 1:28 pm

Guest blogger: Tips for Co-Parenting After Divorce

March 5, 2012

by Scott Morgan

Scott Morgan is a board certified Austin divorce attorney who regularly blogs on the subject of divorce and family law. Check out his blog.

Everyone’s heard horror stories of divorced parents using their children to get back at their ex. Loving parents take pains to avoid this kind of behavior, even if the thought of their former spouse makes them teeth-grittingly furious. Here are some tips for successfully co-parenting while avoiding behaviors that will ultimately harm your children:

  • Tell the Kids Sooner Rather Than Later

Children should be told about the impending divorce or separation as soon as parents know there is no hope for reconciliation. During this conversation it is important parents present a united front and avoid blaming each other, regardless of how tempting this may be. Children need to know that the divorce is in no way their fault. Don’t assume they know it. Tell them! If either parent finds this conversation too daunting, they should seek the services of a therapist, at this juncture and at any point during or after the divorce.

I had a client who had a very amicable divorce with her husband. They mutually decided they just didn’t want to be married to each other. Things were so mutual that they did not separate and neither one moved out until the divorce was final. Both parties were good parents and loved their 5 and 6 year old kids very much. Unfortunately, they could not bring themselves to tell the kids until two days before they separated and the wife moved out with the kids and they put the house on the market. As you can imagine, the children did not take it well and were very upset. They eventually adapted to the new situation as kids usually do, but if the parents had been more upfront about what was happening they could have reduced the kids’ trauma..

  • Don’t Use the Children as Pawns.

In the worst of cases, one parent may fight for custody solely to hurt their spouse. They might even threaten to have one or all of the children appear in front of the judge. This temptation should be avoided at all costs. Children can be permanently harmed by their direct involvement in their parent’s divorce.

One of my clients, a stay-at-home mom who did everything for the kids, had an affair and was leaving her husband. The husband was a likeable enough guy, but a workaholic and not a particularly involved dad. Understandably, he was very hurt by the affair. What was not so understandable was his turning the divorce into a lengthy, ugly, full-blown custody case that was purely motivated by revenge. Ultimately the case settled with wife getting primary custody, but the custody dispute was completely unnecessary and created a major rift between them that permanently damaged their co-parenting relationship..

  • About Joint Custody

In some states joint custody has to be agreed upon by both parents while in others it’s a quasi default position. Some child psychologists disapprove of joint custody where visitation schedules alternate weeks with each parent. These clinicians say that the frequent back and forth can leave the child with feelings of instability. Others say that what’s most important is that both parents fully engaged as parents and be very involved with their children’s lives and that alternating week visitation arrangements are a good way to facilitate this.

From my experience, the most important issue in post-divorce parenting, regardless of the specifics of the visitation arrangement, is that both parents put their children’s best interest at the forefront of their thoughts and sincerely work together to raise their children. While this can be challenging, every parent should try their best to accomplish it.

  • Don’t Ask the Children Who They Want to Live With

A perceptive parent can tell what a child’s preferences are and should not need to ask them this question. Neither parent should attempt to bribe or guilt trip their children in order to manipulate them.

While it sometimes makes sense to ask teenagers about their wishes, asking a younger child what they want is an exercise in futility. I had a custody case involving an eight year old boy. Both parents wanted and sought primary custody and they both believed that the child wanted to live with them. Why? Because each separately asked the child who he wanted to live with. The boy answered to each “I want to live with you.” It wasn’t that he was trying to confuse them, he was just incapable of making such a significant choice.

  • Visitation Must Continue Even if Child Support Doesn’t

Court ordered child support must be paid as ordered. Visitation with the children must also be allowed as ordered. However, the right of visitation and the obligation to pay child support have nothing to do with each other. Children shouldn’t feel that a visit from the other parent is contingent upon their ability to pay.

I once did a consultation with a mom who was inquiring about pursuing her ex over his child support delinquency. She mentioned how she’d refused to let him see the kids when he stopped paying child support. As I explained that she was just as much at risk of a contempt of court finding as her ex was. I advised her to immediately resume allowing her ex to see the kids. In the eyes of the court they are completely separate issues.

While effectively co-parenting your children can be one of the life’s hardest challenges, especially if you have deep-seated resentment towards your ex, you owe it to your children to do your absolute best. That will give them their best chance for a happy and healthy childhood.

Filed under: Parenting — Tags: , , , , — Annie @ 5:18 pm
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